Review: R & D Collaboration on Trial–The Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation

3 Star, Information Technology

R&DExcellent in its Time, Overtaken by Time & Technology & Mindset, March 25, 2008

David V. Gibson

I have been toying with the need for a national skunkworks to create a complete open source software suite of analytic tools including open source multi-lingual and multi-media data ingestion and sense-making, and so I bought this book in part because the Microelectronics and Computer Corporation (MCC) was the “big deal” in the last quarter century of the 20th Century.

Bottom line: don’t bother. The bulk of the book, while very detailed and certainly a worthy effort of reporting and sense-making, does not really apply to today’s circumstances, when three big things are different:

1) Changes to the Earth and the marketplace are at light speed

2) Technology is no longer a top-down massive investment challenge

3) Social entrepreneurs, triple-bottom lines, and blended value propositions are the norm for those who seek to invent the future.

I can see now–in hind-sight, that the MIT Media Lab was the better venture, and still sets a gold standard for others to consider.

The final chapter of this book, entitled “Lessons Learned,” I found only two gems in that chapter:

1) Despite all the challenges of heterogeneous collaboration, benefits do emerge, and they are often unexpected and not part of the original concept of operations.

2) The challenge for the US is not technology invention, but technology application.

I was serving in the Office of Information Technology (OIT) of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the late 1990’s, and I well remember the Japanese Fifth Generation Project that inspired fear among U.S. electronic companies (never mind all the great Japanese espionage against us at the same time). I well remember all the expectation of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and so on. And I know for a fact that today, fully 26 years after CIA’s Office of Scientific and Weapons Research (OSWR) identified the eighteen functionalities needed for a desktop analytic toolkit called CATALYST (Computer Aided Tools for the Analysis of Science & Technology)–see the image above–the U.S. Intelligence Community, despite a $60 billion annual budget, still has total crap on its desktops; its vaunted Intelink system is a “crapshoot” in the words of its own managers; it cannot access the 96% of the information that is openly available in 183 languages it does not speak; and there is no one place (I am NOT making this up) where all of the information from across all of the disciplines can come together and be made sense of.

I conclude, from this book and my life experience, that LINUX is the right model, and we need to do more in open source hardware, and refuse to buy into proprietary black boxes. I am interested in helping to find funding for anyone that can build an Application Oriented Network (AON) router-server that can provide AON functionality at the hand-held or laptop or desktop point of creation; that can be updated without having to throw away the plastic container; and that is completely open source. CISCO CEO refuses to do this. Anyone else?

A few other books that come to mind in relation to this one….
Media Lab, The – Inventing The Future At MIT
The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, Twentieth Anniversary Edition
Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
The Hacker Crackdown: Law And Disorder On The Electronic Frontier
Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, & the Economic World
Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway
Building a Knowledge-Driven Organization
Competing On Internet Time: Lessons From Netscape And Its Battle With Microsoft
The Age of Missing Information
In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations

I won’t list books by Strassmann, Drucker, or Steele, but I will offer three final thoughts as I put this book away:

1. Strassmann: most firms’ investments in information technology return a NEGATIVE return on investment;

2. Drucker: we’ve spent the last 50 years focusing on the T in IT, we need to spend the next 50 focused on the I–one reason I do not think Google will succeed, just as NSA has not succeeded in 50 years; and

3. Steele citing Bamford: the ultimate computing machine, no larger than a small ball, powered by a tiny battery, capable of doing petaflops of calculations against unstructured data, remains “the human brain.”

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